Greg's Reviews > The Recognitions

The Recognitions by William Gaddis
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
42508
's review
Aug 20, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Read in November, 2008

I've been meaning to read one of Gaddis' big novels for years now, ten or so actually. I'd always been drawn more to trying my hand with JR, but after reading Franzen's essay a few years ago on Gaddis I sort of changed my mind, and decided that if the day ever came when I'd read Gaddis I'd start at the beginning of his work. Then of course at some point I realized that being the type of person I am I had to read this book because it fills out the lower rung of the trinity of difficult post-1950 American novels. A lot of good things can be said of this book, and for the first about six hundred pages it's really fucking good and then Gaddis decided to get a little weird. Is this a spoiler coming up? I don't know. Around the page of the beast he starts killing off characters, and about the same time he decides that it's best to kill them off sometimes with it being very difficult for the reader to follow who is dying, and even in the non-death parts, and who exactly is taking part in scenes. At the book's worst it turns into the awful dialog parts of the Left Behind novels, where the only way to tell which character is speaking is to count back the paragraphs, in the Lahaye books though the characters and the form of the writing don't have silences to mess up the count. So at a certain point I got a little lost, I started to feel like I felt when reading the first chapter of Ulysses when I had no idea what was going on, or even a point of reference to place the text in, unlike in Joyce though, when everything feels like it is all coming together in this book it begins to move towards entropy from about 2/3's of the book till the end.

Reading the book at the time it came out must have been something though. A few years later the Beats would supposedly smash up American Literature with their little revolution, but seeing what Gaddis did in this book was much more defining of American serious literature than the half-assed autobiographical masturbatory 'look how cool me and my friends are' books that would categorize the high points of Beat literature. There is something in this book that is aspiring to the high Modernism of the works of Joyce and Proust, but then there is something leaning towards the meta-fiction to come on the scene in the next decade. It is this position the book straddles that makes for a particular unease and I think, in historical retrospect, a kind of failing. Gaddis is on the path to something new, but he doesn't quite pull it off. This doesn't make any sense probably. I guess what I'm meaning to say is that he is paving the way for some of my favorite books to be written, and he's obviously an influence of some kind on Pynchon and DFW and their ilk, but in his own masterpiece he falls short of achieving what they would be able to, but at the same time he is out of touch just enough with what came before him that this novel sits uncomfortably between two difficult styles.
(nov 6, 08)
43 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Recognitions.
sign in »

Quotes Greg Liked

William Gaddis
“How ... how fragile situations are. But not tenuous. Delicate, but not flimsy, not indulgent. Delicate, that's why they keep breaking, they must break and you must get the pieces together and show it before it breaks again, or put them aside for a moment when something else breaks and turn to that, and all this keeps going on. That's why most writing now, if you read it they go on one two three four and tell you what happened like newspaper accounts, no adjectives, no long sentences, no tricks they pretend, and they finally believe that they really believe that the way they saw it is the way it is ... it never takes your breath away, telling you things you already know, laying everything out flat, as though the terms and the time, and the nature and the movement of everything were secrets of the same magnitude. They write for people who read with the surface of their minds, people with reading habits that make the smallest demands on them, people brought up reading for facts, who know what's going to come next and want to know what's coming next, and get angry at surprises. Clarity's essential, and detail, no fake mysticism, the facts are bad enough. But we're embarrassed for people who tell too much, and tell it without surprise. How does he know what happened? unless it's one unshaven man alone in a boat, changing I to he, and how often do you get a man alone in a boat, in all this ... all this ... Listen, there are so many delicate fixtures, moving toward you, you'll see. Like a man going into a dark room, holding his hands down guarding his parts for fear of a table corner, and ... Why, all this around us is for people who can keep their balance only in the light, where they move as though nothing were fragile, nothing tempered by possibility, and all of a sudden bang! something breaks. Then you have to stop and put the pieces together again. But you never can put them back together quite the same way. You stop when you can and expose things, and leave them within reach, and others come on by themselves, and they break, and even then you may put the pieces aside just out of reach until you can bring them back and show them, put together slightly different, maybe a little more enduring, until you've broken it and picked up the pieces enough times, and you have the whole thing in all its dimensions. But the discipline, the detail, it's just ... sometimes the accumulation is too much to bear.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions


Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio "Greg wrote: the half-assed autobiographical masturbatory 'look how cool me and my friends are' books that would categorize the high points of Beat literature."

Yeah. I had a Beat phase in high school that I'm mostly embarrassed about by this point. Though I'm ever so occasionally able to look back fondly on some of the romanticism of it all. I watched this atrocious interview with Kerouac on Italian television where he's just shit-faced and stupid and arrogant as fuck and it really made me feel embarrassed for my 15 year old self who thought Kerouac was the best. But I also find that the only time it's really excusable to be way into the Beat stuff is as a teenager. It's got "TEENAGER" written all over it. But adults who hang onto it obsessively strike me as people not too willing to really reflect on things or explore the world outside of the Kerouac-Ginsberg-Burroughs-et al mythos.


Greg I was about two years out of high school the first time I read On the Road, and I didn't get what all the fuss was about.

I did go through a pretty big Bukowski phase though that I have mixed feelings about.


message 3: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 09, 2009 08:21PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I missed the Bukowski train. Somehow his stuff seems probably more repellent to me than Kerouac. But I don't know. Barfly didn't do anything for me, that's for sure.

I was 14 when I read On the Road and it just worked for me somehow. I mean, as my disclaimer says in all my "reviews" of Kerouac books:

"It spoke to me in that way that people will describe books like On The Road and Catcher in the Rye as speaking to them and others for as long as those books continue to be spoken about. There's no real mystery as to why these kind of books appeal to so many people crossing/constructing that cliche, proverbial bridge between childhood and adulthood. I can still remember how pleasurable and edifying it was to read these books but I remember it with varying levels of self-embarrassment"


Greg Bukowski wasn't liberating to read like I imagine Kerouac can be, unless if one really finds being a drunk postman as a dream to strive for.

Barfly wasn't very good, and missed the pathos of Bukowski. I think I might still enjoy reading him, but I haven't ever since I started working in the bookstore and saw what douche bags most of his readers are.


message 5: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell I went through a Vonnegut phase my junior year of high school, but I'm not embarrassed by it at all. He's still a god to me (a secular one if that's possible.)


Greg I think a Vonnegut phase is nothing to be ashamed of.


message 7: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 09, 2009 08:42PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "Bukowski wasn't liberating to read like I imagine Kerouac can be, unless if one really finds being a drunk postman as a dream to strive for.

Barfly wasn't very good, and missed the pathos of Buk..."


I would say Kerouac was something I wallowed in more than felt to be liberating. I guess it gave me a warm feeling to "identify" with certain things he had to say. Most of it is really about him drinking a lot and blabbering on about Buddhism and Catholicism (he consider himself both...yeah) and being really sad or euphoric. At least that's how I remember it now. It's basically hanging out inside the mind of a manic-depressive with substance abuse issues, hence, the appeal to me as a teenager. Plus it has all that anti-authoritarianism running through it ("TEENAGER"). Some of the Walden-y stuff I think I still can respect--my favorite was Big Sur which was about him drying out alone in a cabin, and then it takes a dive into delirium tremens and paranoia and more drunken irresponsibility. Also, his ego was insanely puffed up sometimes (the manic part of the manic-depression, I guess). He spoke about himself like he was the greatest writer of all time somewhat often, if my memory serves me well (which it may not as it's been about ten years since I read any of his work).

Anyway, I liked your review, it makes me want to pick The Recognitions back up sooner than later.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I'm ashamed that I've still never read Vonnegut. I don't think a single friend of mine or person I've met with similar taste has ever said anything about Vonnegut that wasn't praising. People like gasp and yell in unison that I should "read Vonnegut" and that it's crazy that I never have. I know, I know. I'm thoroughly shamed.


Greg You and Karen can go on a Vonnegut discovery binge together, I think she has read a couple of his books, but she is missing some of his classics.


message 10: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 09, 2009 11:47PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio There's a really wonderful interview with Vonnegut via the Bill Moyers PBS show which I believe was his final interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdANEl...

And there was all of this amazingly, stunningly shitty and offensive coverage of his death by Fox News (which is only worth watching to ramify one's hatred and contempt for the plague that is Fox News):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SiVas...


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's only worth watching to give one more reason to despise Fox News. It's shockingly bad, even for Fox.


message 12: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 10, 2009 12:05AM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's also really funny how various people on Fox were all up in arms about Christopher Hitchens bad mouthing Jerry Falwell (a truly awful man, unlike Vonnegut, and this isn't just a matter of my liberal opinion but it is an empirical fact) after he recently died yet broadcast this crazy, derogatory bullshit about Vonnegut the day after he died. As Hitchens said about Falwell: "If he were given an enema he could've been buried in a matchbox."


message 13: by Sam (new) - added it

Sam MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "It's also really funny how various people on Fox were all up in arms about Christopher Hitchens bad mouthing Jerry Falwell (a truly awful man, unlike Vonnegut, and this isn't just a matter of my li..."

Hitchens on Hannity & Colmes on Falwell's death is probably the funniest thing I've ever seen.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Xox wrote: "The first link didn't work, is there an alternative?"

It works for me, but you can watch a longer version of the interview here:

http://www.pbs.org/now/arts/vonnegut....#

You'll need to download RealPlayer to watch it there. If you don't already have it you can download it for free at http://www.real.com




message 15: by Bram (last edited Sep 10, 2009 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bram MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I'm ashamed that I've still never read Vonnegut. I don't think a single friend of mine or person I've met with similar taste has ever said anything about Vonnegut that wasn't praising. People lik..."

Just to provide a dissenting opinion, Slaughterhouse Five is actually my all-time least favorite book. I went into it expecting to love it and just didn't. At all. I think I rarely take contrarian positions, but this is the major exception. It felt so obvious and obnoxious...on every single page. But I imagine I would have loved it if I read it in HS or college. I still plan on picking up Cat's Cradle at some point though, as many people have suggested I might have a very different response to it.

Great Gaddis review, Greg.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I'm listening to the interview I linked right now and remembering that I actually disagree with his take on certain things. But it depends on how serious he's being at certain points. His whole "we're all fucked" spiel is a little over the top.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

I have this book in my closet. It will stay there for a while more... It frightens me.

In other words, I don't think I'm ready for that jelly.


message 18: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I didn't enjoy reading Slaughterhouse Five, but I've loved or enjoyed most of his other novels. Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions are probably good ones to try, if you still don't like him after reading one of those then you probably aren't going to like Vonnegut.


message 19: by Bram (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bram Greg wrote: "I didn't enjoy reading Slaughterhouse Five, but I've loved or enjoyed most of his other novels. Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions are probably good ones to try, if you still don't like him a..."

Awesome, thanks for the input. That's actually just what I needed to hear to give Vonnegut another try--I think I'll go with Cat's Cradle next.


message 20: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Great review, followed by a great thread.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Left Behind should be mentioned in every review of The Recognitions.

Why is that so damn appropriate?

But it is.


message 22: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I'm going to say it here, instead of there, but I think that the Gaddis quote I had put up is fairly telling about what was missed in that other review and in that reviewer's general attitude towards reading.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "I'm going to say it here, instead of there, but I think that the Gaddis quote I had put up is fairly telling about what was missed in that other review and in that reviewer's general attitude towar..."

Word.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Greg wrote: "I'm going to say it here, instead of there, but I think that the Gaddis quote I had put up is fairly telling about what was missed in that other review and in that reviewer's general attitude towar..."

Apologies--which quote is that? Can you paste it here?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I think he's referring to the "Quotes Greg Liked" directly beneath the review.


message 26: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I forgot that what shows up on my screen isn't what shows up on everyone else's.

“How...how fragile situations are. But not tenuous. Delicate, but not flimsy, not indulgent. Delicate, that's why they keep breaking, they must break and you must the the pieces together and show it before it breaks again, or put them aside for a moment when something else breaks and turn to that, and all this keeps going on. That's why most writing now, if you read it they go on one two three four and tell you what happened like newspaper accounts, no adjectives, no long sentences, no tricks they pretend, and they finally believe that they really believe that the way they saw it is the way it is...it never takes your breath away, telling you things you already know, laying everything out flat, as though the terms and the time, and the nature and the movement of everything were secrets of the same magnitude. They write for people who read with the surface of their minds, people with reading habits that make the smallest demands on them, people brought up reading for facts, who know what's going to come next and want to know what's coming next, and get angry at surprises. Clarity's essential, and deatil, no fake mysticism, the facts are bad enough. But we're embarrassed for people who tell too much, and tell it without surprise. How does he know what happened? unless it's one unshaven man alone in a boat, in all this .... all this .... Listen, there are so many delicate fixtures, moving toward you, you'll see. Like a man going into a dark room, holding his hands down guarding his parts for fear of a table corner, and ... Why, all this around us is for people who can keep their balance only in the light, where they move as though nothing were fragile, nothing tempered by possibility, and all of a sudden bang! something breaks. then you have to stop and put the pieces together again. But you never can put the pieces back together again. but you never can put them back together quite the same way. You stop when you can and expose things, and leave them within reach until you can bring them back and show them, put together slightly different, maybe a little more enduring, until you've broken it and picked up the pieces enough times, and you have the whole thing in all it's dimensions. but the discipline, the detail, it's just....sometimes the accumulation is too much to bear.”


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Joshua Nomen-Mutatio wrote: "I think he's referring to the "Quotes Greg Liked" directly beneath the review."

Oh, right. I'm glad I'm not responsible for navigating shipping vessels, because I repeatedly fail to successfully navigate this little website.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's easy to miss when scrolling downward. Was not trying to snark. Just giving a matter of fact heads "up".


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Greg wrote: "I'm going to say it here, instead of there, but I think that the Gaddis quote I had put up is fairly telling about what was missed in that other review and in that reviewer's general attitude towar..."

It's also an excellent example of what Gaddis can do with voice. I'm not sure of its context, but it seems clear that these words belong to one of the characters. But are they also Gaddis' own words? Somehow they are, but the voice is not directly his own; his own voice is refracted through the character that speaks the words and the words really belong only to the character directly. Yet. . . Gaddis knows he can't speak directly, otherwise his thesis in the quote would defeat itself, ie, "Clarity's essential." But even this character is not always speaking his own words but is quoting some popular opinions, but not quoting directly. So there are at least three layers of voices piled up upon each other.

There is a reason why Gaddis spoke publicly only infrequently and always refused to read from his own work publicly.


message 30: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I wish I could remember which part of the book I took this quote from. Regrettably this was a library book so I don't have a copy that I would have probably marked up if it had been my own.


message 31: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Shit, I actually had saved the quote to a file with the page numbers. It is on pgs. 124-125 of the mass market copy of the book.


message 32: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Apropos of Greg's quote (but otherwise of nothing), Haruki Murakami reviewed his own book at a couple of places in "1Q84".


message 33: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg That quote is on pgs 113-114 of the Dalkey edition.


message 34: by Ruby (new) - added it

Ruby  Tombstone [Uncensored or Else] I wish I could say you were inspiring me to read it. But...noooo.......That just sounds painful!


back to top